This is the best of times. That was the worst of times.
Indian cricket had let the nerves get the better of them. Pragmatically, winning the World Cup had been a fanciful dream – but a shock first round exit was an unjust blow. As those seniors sat looking into the distance, disconsolate and depressed, tied between the pain of shattered dreams and the fear of the reaction and that picture flashed across our eyes, the mood was a dark shade of grey.
A million theories bloomed. Money was the root of all evil. It was all those sponsors and their ads and the clauses therein. Guru Greg was the one to blame. Not enough practice. Too much practice. Change the coach. Change the captain. Change the team. Change the mindset. Drop those egotistical has-beens; for they never will be again. Bring on an effigy. (For the not so faint hearted a house was better). Committees were formed. Former captain’s opinions sought. Selection committees were slammed. Gag orders were issued. Conspiracy theories floated. All of the above.
Inspiration, it seemed, could only come from imagination.
It was at such a time, a year ago (to the day), that this blog was born.
In hindsight, things have moved swiftly. Partly because so much has happened.
First, a coach was fired and a captain retained. Then shortlists for a replacement started floating around. Since the choices were few and the expectations (as always) high, an interim manager-cum-coach was appointed for a series against the minnows.
Even as normal breathing was restored, a couple of seniors were “rested”. Gasps resumed. We won what was partly a grudge series (this was after all, Bangladesh, that had gotten us out of the World Cup), but it was significant for many other reasons. Ravi Shastri (manager cum coach) and co decided that the frontrunner for the coach job, Dav Whatmore was not the man for the job anymore. Youngsters gained confidence and the seeds of a good season without a few seniors were sown. The country’s mood improved but this was not the real thing.
Back home, the BCCI clearly trying to slow things down and let the nerves settle had its own set of battles to wage. Subhash Chandra had floated the idea of his own parallel cricket league and a number of top flight cricketers were being linked with it. The BCCI reacted with all the grace of a monopolist. Everyone associated with the Indian Cricket League was banned and even if they had once won India a World Cup, their pensions suspended. Elsewhere, the omnipresent committee offered the coach job to Graham Ford, who having been a players choice and having been spoken with earlier and having edged out a largely symbolic John Emburey, decided to stay with Kent rather than become Superman. None of this was cricket.
Come the second half of the year, things were to get busy on the field. For a triseries in Ireland and the ensuing England tour, India had a new vice captain (its nth) and somewhat surprisingly his name was Mahendra Singh Dhoni. With a Twenty/20 World Cup to follow, it seemed like the selectors were in the mood to experiment.
India won the tri-series beating South Africa and Ireland and headed to England where they had not won since 1986. It was somewhere here that Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly announced that they would not be available for the Twenty/20 World Cup. It would prove to be an important development.
The rain helped India through a tricky situation at Lords but after that it was an Indian Summer in England. A first Test series win in over twenty years was followed by a 7 match ODI series. 3 all and one to the umpires, in our opinion. We should have won that but the mood was improving and the confidence growing and a far cry from the World Cup barely 5 months ago.
A young bunch under MS Dhoni went to South Africa to represent India at the ICC Twenty/20 World Cup. India had played one T20 game before this. The team had a number of “yoohoo, who-you’s”. Two cricket superpowers that had been humiliated and brought to their knees at the One Day World Cup met in the finals. India had already beaten Pakistan once (with a bowler shootout) in the early rounds. The format itself was new to audiences in the subcontinent and much skepticism was countered the best way possible. India beat England, South Africa and Australia on the way to the finals. En route Yuvraj Singh got Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over. And a 12 ball fifty. In the finals, the old neighbours met again in a match that would ensure that Twenty20 was the next big money making machine. 3 hours after it all began, India cradled cricket’s latest child. MS Dhoni was king. For many, what that win represented to India and the dreams it ignited would prove to be a life changing event a few months down the road.
Meanwhile in India, having led India to amongst its greatest Test victories in England, Rahul Dravid resigned captaincy. He did not offer any public reasons. The BCCI unveiled the Indian Premier League with the approval of most cricket boards (or most of the important ones anyway).
India wrestled with the captaincy conundrum. Sachin Tendulkar, the only logical choice for both forms of the game turned it down and that opened the door for India’s first venture into split captaincy. It was too early for Dhoni to be captain for the Test series (particularly when the upcoming ones were Pakistan at home and Australia away). Anil Kumble had retired from the one day form of the game after the World Cup and (considered then largely a no-choice compromise candidate) was chosen as Test captain.
Australia visited for a short series. But the events on and off the field were to have far reaching consequences. The younger, brasher fringe of the team chose to be raucously aggressive. And announce it. Andrew Symonds and the racism saga blew up even as he expressed distaste at the country’s T20 World Cup celebrations. Equally importantly though, Australia won and won convincingly. And though some of the seniors performed, it was clear, to Dhoni anyway, that to be competitive India needed to improve at least two areas significantly. Running between the wickets and fielding.
Pakistan visited but there was none of the brouhaha that surrounds a Indo-Pak series. Too much of a good thing ? India won and the series finished just in time for India to squeeze into Australia before the crowds gathered for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. All this while, (since the Bangladesh series) India had been playing without a fulltime coach. Lalchand Rajput had been the caretaker for the most part and Robin Singh and Venky Prasad had cabinet rank positions. Just before the departure to Australia, India appointed Gary Kirsten. But he wouldnt be part of the Australian epic. (Guest appearance notwithstanding).
India were creamed in Melbourne but it was Sydney that would shape things. India lost their way when they should not have to go 0-2 down but the game had it all. Cricketing brilliance from a few , umpiring controversies, an (lets be polite) inefficient match referee, racism charges, dubious appeals, short fused post match conferences and Australia had won 16 Tests in a row. The enormity of it all was only dwarfed by the jingoism that ensued. Tour pullouts, BCCI appeals, ICC interference, an Umpire
dropping being dropped and with lots of things shoved under the carpet, somehow the tour went on.
On we went to Perth and the Australian stronghold for Ricky Ponting’s men to grab their 17th victory in a row and history along with it. Anil Kumble’s men though, had other ideas and for the second time Australia were stopped in their tracks at 16. Given the background of events, it would rank as amongst India’s greatest Test wins. And though India lost the series after the drawn Adelaide test, Sydney and Perth represented a possible momentum shift in matters cricketing.
On the evening after the Perth victory, the selectors announced the team for the CB series. Absent were Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly. The decisions, we were told, had been as much acceding to Dhoni’s request as purely selectorial. Dada’s 1200+ runs in the year gone by were not enough for him to negate the premium Dhoni placed on young legs. Sachin Tendulkar was the only one from the “senior” brigade. The last man standing. India was to contest the last triseries in Australia with a bunch of young upstarts with nothing to lose.
men boys won – guided to the finish line by youth, exuberance, fearlessness and Sachin Tendulkar. A straight sets victory was, for many, vindication of the summer’s torment. For Dhoni and Tendulkar , it was simply vindication.
And so here we stand today. One year on. The cause of the gloom a year back is considered addressed. India have beaten the World Champions and the Runners Up in ODIs. And won the Twenty20 World Cup. They’ve changed the coach. They have new captains and a new mindset. They’ve won the Under19 World Cup (under Dav Whatmore – now a NCA coach as Guru Greg sets up a state-of-the-art academy to nurture youth) and a Test series in frontiers long considered unassailable. There is a power shift thats sending tremors across the cricket world as the BCCI goes from strength to strength. Money is hardly the root of evil anymore. In fact, with the IPL and with Ricky Ponting at bargain prices and Sachin, Dada, Dravid and Dhoni with iconic millions, nothing could be more virtuous.
Thats been the year that we invested in a year ago. To the day. It would probably suffice to say that for a supporter, its been a truly gratifying return. Results have, after all, defied imagination. The darkness following the World Cup has reinforced what we believed in. Much of what we see today would probably not have happened if the World Cup had not been a flushout. Its always ok in the end. If its not ok, its not the end.
Most importantly its been enormously satisfying because of the number of friends that have been made. Along the way we have “met” a few idols who are not idols anymore. Just more believeable heroes.
And while we’ve diversified into occassionally writing about other sport- most importantly we’ve learnt to appreciate sport more than ever.
What could be better.
Cheers and Thank you all.